Aster leads me to a room in the shuttle. He said it’s called a shower.
“You can put your clothes on this shelf,” he explains, “the shower itself is behind that glass door.”
I follow Aster into the area.
“That’s the shower head,” he points to the metal sieve that is fixed on the higher part of the wall, “that’s where the water will come from. For controlling the water…” Aster pauses for a second, “you can simply give instructions to the computer. Switching the water on or off and adjusting the temperature. Consider computers something akin to Mittens’s subordinates without their own will.”
Mittens’s subordinates? Without their own will?
“I know it’s a tricky question to ask, but what is your relation to Mittens exactly?”
“Please keep the answer to yourself,” Mittens answers instead, “if you can promise that I will tell you about it.”
I gulp. As I expected, they have a special connection. I take a deep breath.
“I promise won’t tell anyone about it,” I answer.
“In simple words: Aster is the one that created me.”
“I see… Wait, Aster has the power to create spirits‽”
So he is a god after all?
“No. No, no, no…” Aster interjects, “well, from your standpoint, he seems like the other spirits… Never mind that, I don’t have a special power, I merely have some knowledge. And using that knowledge, I have given a lifeless tool like the shuttle the ability to think and learn. And while I was at it, I gave it a personality, too.”
“But the ability to control blessings is also rooted in knowledge,” I add.
“Oh, I see… but how do I explain this…”
“What Aster wants to say is,” Mitten states, “to his people, being able to create something like me is like a smith forging a sword: with enough knowledge and practise, anyone can learn to do it. Of course that also means something new can be discovered.”
Anyone can? Just what is life like where he comes from‽ There are flying homes, spirits inhabiting the homes. Food just appears out of nowhere. What do people even do all day when daily necessities are just that easy to get? I have greatly underestimated how different life here must be to him. It’s very possible he didn’t even know the meaning of that. In any case, I’ll do my best to support him.
“… Rowan? Are you still with us?” Aster asks.
“Oh, yes, sorry, I was lost in thought. Is anything troubling you since you got here?”
“I… No, there’s nothing. I was slightly worried you’d start worshipping me when you heard about Mittens.”
“No, you’ve clearly indicated you don’t want that.”
“Thanks, I mean it,” his smiles happily, “take your shower! We can talk more after this. This isn’t the place to talk about something as serious as this.”
Aster leaves the room. I undress and put my clothes on the shelf that Aster showed. I walk to the ‘shower head’ and say, “erm … switch on water.” Just as he said, the water drops out from the head. It’s a steady stream of warm water, it touches my skin — it feels lukewarm. After falling to the floor, the water drains through holes on the floor.
The water quickly becomes warmer while still flowing as steady as before. Where is all that water stored, and where does it go? Is it created by a blessing? I don’t know if a blessing could even do something like this… But I have to say, this is a lot more refreshing than just wiping yourself with water! No wonder he is still that energetic even after drinking that much yesterday…
Yesterday… I believe I owe it to him to at least explain what he did there. He might have been too drunk to even remember what he did. Well, that simply proves, despite his skills he’s a just normal person.
After thoroughly cleaning myself, I order the water to stop. “I’m still wet… How am I supposed to dry myself?”
I can feel a warm wind blowing. Is this Aevita’s blessing? No, this feels different. I think this is warm wind is also made by the shuttle.
Once I’m dry, I state “stop drying” and the wind stops blowing. I get dressed and walk back into the main room of the shuttle. Aster sits at the table tapping with his fingers on a black box.
“How was the shower?” Aster asks with a wide grin on his face.
“It was more refreshing than I expected. In winter, we usually only get to wipe ourselves with warm water. It’s not really enjoyable. That’s why I hate that season.”
“I see. So… how do you really feel about me?”
“You’re a person with special talents, but you sure can do unreasonable things. So I think you are a person like everyone else. I would to stay friends with you.”
“I see,” Aster is visibly relieved to hear that. But then he turns to me with a questioning look and asks: “unreasonable things? And would‽”
I can feel my face turning red. So he doesn’t remember…
“Did I do something yesterday?” Aster asks.
I avoid this gaze. How do I tell him? There’s nothing I can do to avoid it, I have to tell him directly.
“You… erm… well, you proposed to me.”
“I see, I proposed… Wait!! I did what‽”
“You proposed to me, in front of everyone in the village. Even though you were drunk, you were so blunt about it, it’s hard to imagine you wouldn’t have done that even if you had been sober.”
“I… I see. I don’t know how it happened. What did I do exactly?”
I can feel my face turning redder. It must be the same colour as Xiu berries now.
“You… patted my ears and caressed them.”
“That’s a proposal‽” Aster eyes open wide.
“Yes, so… I take it you didn’t know about this?”
“No, I didn’t know this. I hope I didn’t embarrass you too much.”
“I… I don’t mind. It feels great when you do it. And… I don’t mind accepting your proposal.”
“That’s natural… wait you don’t‽ And there’s no problem with us being… of the same sex?”
“No, there’s no problem in that regard. We only have to finish the pilgrimage first.”
“I see. I’m not intending to, but just for me to know what would be the consequences of me taking back that proposal?”
“Taking back your proposal would shame the both of us. But it would shame me more… I believe. Don’t even think of asking me to reject it. I could only do that if I had my eyes set on someone else the moment you proposed. And since you took me by surprise, I missed the chance to lie about it. I didn’t expect you to be that clueless about our customs.”
“I… I see. I have interfered with your life without knowing it. Drunk or not, I will have to answer to my actions. So… I will do my best. I’m counting on you as well, partner.”
“Just keep calling me Rowan,” I answer.
“That was definitely not what I was prepared for. But well… I wanted to give you something anyway, so you can discreetly tell me if I’m about to break a spoken or unspoken rule. Speaking of which, are there any rules and conventions about jewellery and accessories?”
“Aristocrats and merchants like to show off with items that display their symbol or insignia. Regular people seldom wear rings. They instead carry more practical items. Why do you ask?”
“It’s a common tradition among my people to give your partner a ring when proposing. Well, it has gone out of fashion lately, but I’m quite fond of old traditions. Also, my people are monogamous.”
“I’m not well versed in high-society, so I don’t know if they have such a custom, if they do, I’m sure Nescha knows. She tends to have rich customers. But we have something similar to that, I still need to prepare it.”
“I’m looking forward to it. So what’s your insignia? You haven’t started out as a merchant yet, so you don’t have one yet, do you?”
“No, but it’s not uncommon for new merchants to adapt the insignia of their hometown. For Dewick, it’s a drop of water on the edge of a single leaf.”
Aster fiddles around on some black box on the table. A moment later, an image appears in the air. It’s the insignia in colour.
“Like this?” Aster asks.
“Yes, just like this,” I answer while nodding.
“Alright, let’s make the items,” Aster continues tapping on the black box. A short moment later, several metallic items appear on the shelf. It’s an assortment of four different items: two rings and two other flat round items. All items have the insignia of Dewick on them. There are no gems, but the insignia is still coloured. The colours are vibrant, I wonder how those work. Aster stands up and walks over to the shelf. He puts one of the rings on a finger of my left hand. I pick up the second ring and put it on Aster’s left hand.
“So what’s with the other items?” I ask.
“This has a communication tool inside it,” Aster hands me one of the items, “you can use this to speak with Mittens or with me.”
Aster removes a similar-looking item from his shirt and puts it in his pocket. He then takes the last item and clips it to his shirt. I want to show and brag about these to Granny. Thinking of Granny…
“Oh, right, Granny wanted to speak to you if you have time. I don’t know what it’s about, though. She’s my grandmother, but at times, I really don’t know what’s on her mind.”
“Could this be about my proposal?”
“It’s possible. Usually, the village elder oversees the marriage ritual. But that’s still in the future. As I said, we still need to finish the pilgrimage before that.”